Sunday School that excels

A new book I am pleased to be a contributor.

That last line might get your attention. You might be thinking, “Yeah, back in the 50s, but what about today?” Surely methods that worked in the 50s will not work anymore. There seems to be a widespread perception that the things that used to work don’t work anymore.

I read a post on Facebook recently that illustrates this point. It said something like, “53% of people surveyed said they would not be open to a stranger telling them about their faith in God.” There is a tendency to read something like that and think, “I guess old-fashioned witnessing doesn’t work anymore.”

My response: “47% are open to a stranger telling them about their faith in God.”

I have a pastor friend in El Paso, Texas that doubled his church twice in six years—going from about 125 to over 500.  I asked him how he did it. I asked him specifically about his music.   I asked about music because that seems to be a point of tension in a lot of churches I visit. “Bill, do you have a hot band?” A lot of church growth books and seminars say you have to have a hot band to reach people today.

“Hot band? No, we don’t have a hot band. Our music is completely traditional.” There is language you don’t hear too much anymore. Completely traditional. Most people say their music is blended. At Vansickle, the music is blended. (Some say that blended music is music that keeps everyone equally unhappy, but this is a book on Sunday school, not music.)

“Completely traditional?” I wanted to make sure I had heard Bill correctly.

“Yes, in fact, it is bad traditional.”

“What do you mean by bad traditional?”

“The piano is out of tune. The person playing doesn’t play very well. The songs they sing are old but not the great old hymns of the faith. They are songs I would rather never hear again.”

“How did you double a church twice in six years with music that isn’t any better than that?”

Here is what Bill said he did: first day of work he shows up to work, gets a cup of coffee, and reads his Bible. Then he is out the door to knock on doors. He walks east from the church.

Door #1 is not home.

Door #2 is not home.

Door #3 is not home.

Door #4 is not interested.

Door #5 is not home.

Door #6 is not home.

Door #7 is nice but they go to another church. . .

Door #50 Bill knocks on the door and introduces himself as the new pastor from the church down the street. He asks if there is anything he can pray for them about. The lady bursts into tears. “Yes. My mother is in the hospital. She is having surgery tomorrow. I am scared. Can you pray for her?” They pray. He volunteers to go visit her at the hospital. One thing leads to another, and the whole family comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Day #2. Bill gets to work, pours a cup of coffee, and reads his Bible. Thirty minutes later he is out the door. This day he walks west. Bill does this every day, for four hours a day. Soon he starts reaching a few people. He develops some relationships in the church. He invites people to join him. The church grows. Income increases. He hires staff. He tells them if they come to work for him, they will be joining him for 4 hours a day of knocking on doors. Five years later, the church has doubled twice.

Here is the lesson. A lot of people who tell you things don’t work anymore are wrong. The only reason they don’t work is that we don’t work them. I am not sure that bus ministry ever really stopped working. We just got tired and sold the busses.

Visitation is a method that has been around a long time. Does it still work? I researched this in preparation for my book Make Your Group Grow. Here is what I found. With classes that were not involved in visitation, 29% were growing, 3% reported that they were growing rapidly.

Groups that were involved in visitation were nearly twice as likely to be growing.                 51% growing and 6% growing rapidly

Churches involved in visitation were 78% more likely to be growing or growing rapidly: